Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What happens to people who have never heard the gospel when they die?

One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer, especially when posed by adherents of other religions, is the question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus? In this post, I will explain how progress in the field of philosophy of religion has given us a possible (and Biblical) solution to this thorny question.

First, Christianity teaches that humans are in a natural state of rebellion against God. We don’t want to know about him, and we don’t want him to have any say in what we are doing. We just want to appropriate all the gifts he’s given us, do whatever we want with them, and then have eternal bliss after we die. We want to do whatever we want and then be forgiven, later.

Along comes Jesus, who, through his sinless life and his death on the cross, heals that rift of rebellion between an all-good God and rebellious man. Now we have a real understanding of the fact that God is real, that he has power over death, and that he has very specific ideas on what we should be doing. If we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and follow his teachings, we can avoid the penalty of our rebellion.

The only problem is that in order to appropriate that free gift of reconciliation, people need to actually know about Jesus. And there are some people in the world who have not even heard of him. Is it fair that these other people will be sent to eternal separation from God, just because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Enter William Lane Craig to save the day. His solution is that God orders the world in such a way that anyone who would freely choose to acknowledge Jesus and appropriate his teachings in their decision-making will be given eternal life. God knows in advance who would respond, and chooses their time and place of birth, and he supplies them with the amount of evidence they need.

And this agrees with what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul says this in his apologetic on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail how God foreknows how people will choose in every set of circumstances, and how God uses that knowledge to get everyone where they need to be without violating their free will. God wants the best for everybody, and has ordered to whole universe in order to give each of us our best opportunity for eternal life.

Here is a summary of the what is in his paper:

The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.

Analysis reveals the real problem to involve certain counterfactuals of freedom, e.g., why did not God create a world in which all people would freely believe in Christ and be saved? Such questions presuppose that God possesses middle knowledge. But it can be shown that no inconsistency exists between God’s having middle knowledge and certain persons’ being damned; on the contrary, it can be positively shown that these two notions are compatible.

Go read this paper and equip yourself to answer this common question!

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Neil Shenvi lectures on the relationship between science and religion

Another great 42-minute lecture by Dr. Neil Shenvi.

Speaker bio:

As it says on the main page, my name is Neil Shenvi; I am currently a research scientist with Prof. Weitao Yang at Duke University in the Department of Chemistry. I was born in Santa Cruz, California, but grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. I attended Princeton University as an undergraduate where I worked on high-dimensional function approximation with Professor Herschel Rabitz. I became a Christian in Berkeley, CA where I did my PhD in Theoretical Chemistry at UC – Berkeley with Professor Birgitta Whaley. The subject of my PhD dissertation was quantum computation, including topics in quantum random walks, cavity quantum electrodynamics, spin physics, and the N-representability problem. From 2005-2010, I worked as a postdoctoral associate with Prof. John Tully at Yale where I did research into nonadiabatic dynamics, electron transfer, and surface science.

Outline slide: (Download the Powerpoint slides here)

Lecture:

Summary:

  • Science is often considered to be in opposition to religion, because it answers all the questions that religion asks
  • Thesis: 1) Science and religion are compatible, 2) Science provides us with good reasons to believe that God exists
  • Definition: what is science?
  • Definition: what is the scientific method?
  • Definition: what is religion?
  • Where is the conflict between science and religion, according to atheists?
  • Conflict 1: Definitional – faith is belief without evidence
  • But the Bible doesn’t define faith as “belief without evidence”
  • Conflict 2: Metaphysical – science presuppose naturalism (nature is all that exists)
  • First, naturalism is a philosophical assumption, not something that is scientifically tested or proved
  • Second, methodological naturalism in science doesn’t require us to believe in metaphysical naturalism
  • Conflict 3: Epistemological – science is the only way to know truth (scientism)
  • But scientism cannot itself be discovered by science – the statement is self-refuting
  • Conflict 4: Evolutionary – evolution explains the origin of life, so no need for God
  • Theists accept that organisms change over time, and that there is limited common descent
  • But the conflict is really over the mechanism that supposedly drives evolutionary change
  • There are philosophical and evidential reasons to doubt the effectiveness of mutation and selection
  • Evidence for God 1: the applicability of mathematics to the natural world, and our ability to study the natural world
  • Evidence for God 2: the origin of the universe
  • Evidence for God 3: the fine-tuning of the initial constants and quantities
  • Evidence for God 4: the implications of quantum mechanics
  • Evidence for God 5: the grounding of the philosophical foundations of the scientific enterprise
  • Hiddenness of God: why isn’t the evidence of God from science more abundant and more clear?
  • Science is not the only means for getting at truth
  • Science is not the best way to reach all the different kinds of people
  • There is an even deeper problem that causes people to not accept Christianity than lack of evidence
  • The deeper problem is the emotional problem: we want to reject God’s claim on our lives

He concludes with an explanation of the gospel, which is kinda cool, coming from an academic scientist.

I am a big admirer of Dr. Neil Shenvi. I wish we could clone him and have dozens, or even hundreds, like him (with different scientific specializations, of course!). I hope you guys are doing everything you can to lead and support our young people, and encouraging them to set their sights high and aim for the stars.

UPDATE: Dr. Shenvi has posted a text version of the lecture.

Related posts

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Does the Christian life require unpopularity and self-sacrifice?

This post on Eric Chabot’s Think Apologetics blog made me think of someone I’ve been talking to about her life plan. He lists out the components of the gospel in long-form, then asks whether millenials are hearing that in church.

Excerpt:

What Gospel are millennials hearing? The “Jesus will meet all my needs” Gospel?

To summarize  “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

Conclusion: If millennials are hearing a Gospel that doesn’t mention any of these points, they aren’t hearing the Gospel at all!

[...]Churches need to emphasize that we are called to be servants. Hence, we are looking for Servants! And this means there will be self denial. And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.- Luke 9:23.

Do you know what this mean to its original hearers? The cross may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, to a Jewish person the cross was not a badge of honor but instead a sign of rejection and embarrassment. In other words, the cross meant misunderstanding, rejection by others, ridicule, etc. In other words, to take up our cross is death to our own reputations, our honor and how we are perceived by others.

In a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for millennials who have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness. 

I think we need to warn young people that just being willing to serve God does not reward bad planning. I know people in full-time ministry now who are facing a very challenging environment with fewer and fewer donations. It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew, and then blame God for not following through.

I think in my own life, I’ve probably been too defensive, but I still think I’ve been able to score points while on defense. I never believed that I could make risky decisions and then have God automatically bail me out. I just tried to serve the best I could, within the bounds of prudence and frugality. I guess I am trying to say that I can easily see how being overly ambitious could end badly, and I would hate to see someone bail out on God because they incorrectly thought that he would reward sincere desires with happiness. In the real world, what produces results is good planning and accurate budgets. Count the cost.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , ,

Apologetics in the gospel of John: evidential or presuppositional?

I am reading John for the woman I am mentoring in apologetics, and it’s slow going. But the most frequent thing I list in my “three points” e-mails to her is Jesus’ constant use of miracles as evidence to authenticate his claims about himself.

Here’s a post by Eric Chabot on the Think Apologetics blog. (H/T J. Warner Wallace tweet)

Intro:

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). (1)

The Gospel of John records: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).

In this post, I will highlight some of the different ways John utilizes apologetics in his testimony of who Jesus is.

Excerpt:

The Works of Jesus

“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does,  29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod 4: 1-9). In the exchange between Nicodemus said to Jesus, Nicodemus said, We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2)

I really recommend reading this post, and see if you agree with me about the gospel of John. I don’t see how anyone could read this gospel and come away with the impression that Christianity is in any way a faith that denigrates reason and evidence. The whole book is a litany of evidence presented to unbelievers. If you are dealing with unbelievers, and you’re Jesus, you’re using evidence.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , ,

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

I was studying Philippians yesterday with the lady I am mentoring in apologetics. Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. We studied Philippians 1, and used D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.

More:

So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.

More:

Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[...]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[...]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.

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